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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/9/17

The Kurds' Treatment In Turkey Is Indefensible

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Message Alon Ben-Meir
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Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
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The below article is a response to a public letter written by Ibrahim Kurtulus, criticizing my previous article about the plight of the Kurds in Turkey. Kurtulus is a member of the Federation of Turkish American Associations, Inc. You can find a link to his letter in full here.

Given the plight of the Kurds in Turkey and the need to find a solution to the 40-year-old violent conflict between the PKK and successive Turkish governments, I thought it was critically important to respond to Mr. Kurtulus' criticism of my previous article and bring to light the terrible mistreatment of the Kurds under Erdogan's reign of terror. Kurtulus resorts to sweeping absurdities and dishonesty to rebut my position, but to no avail. His blind biases and hypocrisy shine throughout his counter-arguments, which are on display for all to see. Meanwhile, the Kurds continue to suffer, and it is they who are paying the price.

To put things in perspective, it is important to identify who Mr. Kurtulus is and highlight his suspect behavior, which raises serious questions about his credibility and integrity.

This is a man who openly colluded with Michael Flynn, the disgraced former National Security Adviser for President Donald Trump. Flynn, a paid lackey of the Turkish government, "omitted Kurtulus... in [a] section of the form requiring more specific disclosures for income sources in the last year," according to the Washington Post. Kurtulus' funding of Flynn as a quasi-spokesman on behalf of Turkish interests makes him complicit in the actions of a man who exhibited deceitful behavior while in high office.

Kurtulus qualifies himself as "having nothing to do with the Turkish government," but a cursory glance at his public record reveals his connections to Erdogan loyalists and even members of Erdogan's own family. There are numerous instances of Kurtulus appearing at public functions alongside Hilal Mutlu, an activist and cousin of the Turkish president, and Kurtulus leveraged his relationships with Mutlu to convince General Flynn that Fethullah Gulen was the primary plotter of the failed July 15, 2016 coup.

His first claim that I am either a "friend of the Kurds, or a hater of the Turks, or both" is irrational. In which way does my sympathy for the Kurdish cause mean that I am a hater of the Turkish people? Similarly, my respect for the Turkish people does not translate to hatred of the Kurds. In my article, I equally blame both the PKK and Erdogan for the ongoing cycle of violence that is devastating southeastern Turkey, and killing scores of innocent Kurds and Turks alike -- hardly an endorsement of one side versus the other.

Acknowledging the reality of the deadly cycle of violence does not make me a propagandist on behalf of the Kurds, as Kurtulus claims. No one in today's Turkey can voice any dissent against Erdogan and do so with impunity. But no one is deserving of more piercing criticism than Erdogan for inflicting so much pain and agony on millions of innocent Turkish citizens, while assuming dictatorial powers and dismantling the foundation of Turkey's democracy.

The Turkey-PKK conflict has been long and bloody, and one cannot attribute the killing solely to the PKK, as many thousands have been killed on both sides. The focus needs to be on preventing further bloodshed, and this can only be achieved if both commit to the resumption of well-intentioned peace negotiations. The PKK is indeed recognized as a terror group by many countries, but how does Kurtulus reconcile that with the fact that Erdogan himself negotiated with this "terror group"?

Abdullah calan, the jailed leader of the Kurds, has indicated time and again that he is ready and willing to resume negotiations, and it is Erdogan who is refusing to restart the peace talks which he abruptly ended in 2015. In fact, his own Prime Minister at the time, Ahmet Davutoglu, beseeched him not to do so for the sake of the country and its future stability. When will Erdogan and people like Kurtulus understand that the Kurdish problem in Turkey cannot be simply wished away? Erdogan will fail, like his predecessors, to fight the PKK "until the very last rebel is killed."

The Turkish Kurds have every right to live their lives as they see fit and still be loyal citizens of their country. What gives Kurtulus or Erdogan the right to dictate the way the Kurds should live, and deprive them of their cultural heritage? In which way would that infringe on Turkey, especially when hypocrites like Kurtulus claim that Turkey is a democracy?

Let me be abundantly clear, and I quote directly from my article: "I do not support, and I condemn any individual or group who uses brutal force for political or social gains regardless of its source, motivation, ideology, or belief." Thus, I am not turning calan into "some sort of a hero," as Kurtulus suggests. Nevertheless, calan remains the leader of the Kurdish cause in Turkey and is the best conduit for achieving a peaceful settlement, especially given his past and present willingness to engage in serious negotiations to end this endemic conflict.

To be sure, the designation of the PKK as a terror group is arbitrary -- Mandela's ANC was listed as a terrorist group until 2008, and Mandela himself languished in jail for 26 years. Who today views Mandela as a terrorist? Again, I refer to my above comments regarding the very notion of what a terror group is in this context -- Erdogan's engagement with the PKK would make him a terrorist sympathizer, according to Kurtulus' "logic."

Kurtulus says that my comments on the discrimination faced by the Kurds leave me a "step away from claiming the Kurds are wearing yellow stars" [emphasis added]. I condemn in the strongest terms Kurtulus' knee-jerk evocation of Nazi-era practices, which demonstrates how ignorant and blind he is to historic events, especially of that era.

There is a long history of discrimination against Kurds in Turkey that persists today and would simply take too long to enumerate here. The Kurdish language was suppressed for decades, Kurdish-run schools were not allowed to operate, there was forced relocation -- Kurtulus' flippant treatment of this well-documented history is astonishing.

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Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. His dedication to writing about, analyzing, and (more...)

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